Monday, 28 July 2014

FEATURE: Movie Talk on Sundays - Heroes and Villains (10th August)

On Sunday 10th August, I’ll be hosting the Twitter phenomenon that is #MTOS. If you haven’t taken part before, #MTOS is a weekly meeting of film enthusiasts, getting together for a big old discussion. I’ll be asking ten questions, one every ten minutes from 8pm (GMT) and all you need to do is post your response and tag it with the #MTOS hashtag.

This time, I'm interested in the rocks and the hard places of our favourite stories, the unstoppable forces meeting the immoveable objects. In short, the heroes and the villains. Long the opposing staples of a story, the clash between a hero and a villain forms the backbone of many a narrative from romantic comedies to sword and sandals epics. What I'm interested in is finding out what makes you guys tick when it comes to the battles between good and evil.

So without further ado, here are my questions for Sunday:

1). Easy two to kick off with: Who is your favourite cinematic hero?

2). Who is your favourite cinematic villain?

3). Which cinematic hero versus villain clash is your favourite?

4). What makes for a good hero versus villain confrontation?

5). Does a particular genre succeed at creating better hero and villain pairings?

6). Do you believe in the idea that a hero is only as good as the villain they are facing?

7). Do you prefer your heroes and villains straight up good and evil or a little more morally grey?

8). Do heroes and villains with superpowers make for more satisfying climactic clashes?

9). Any hero. Any villain. Anywhere. What would be your ultimate adversarial smackdown?

10). Your answers for Question 9 are locked in battle. Who would win and why?

I look forward to seeing your answers!

- Becky

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

FEATURE: Film Bloggers' Sci-Fi Top 10

By now, everyone should have seen the list of the "100 best sci-fi movies" that Time Out magazine has just thrown up (if you haven't, check it out here). As it's Time Out, the list is made up of choices from not only filmmakers but also leading critics as well as actual scientists. Who can beat that?

We can. As the film blogging community is always very enthusiastic towards genre, whether it's Under the Skin or Guardians of the Galaxy, what we'd like to do is drill down a bit and find out what the community sees as the best science fiction movies. 100 is a bit nuts, so what we're going to do is turn it down to ten, so hopefully the end result will be the 10 best sci-fi movies according to the film blogging community.

What'd we'd like you to do is simple - send us your list of top ten sci-fi films and who you write for (so we can link to your site), along with a paragraph on your top choice and why you chose it. That'll give us a little bit of meat to post when it all goes up, instead of endless lists.

We're aiming to have all the entries in by Saturday August 9th - so if you want to participate, just email your choices to - and we look forward to reading your choices!

- Charlie

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

FEATURE: Expanding the Universe - Star Wars Issues #1-#6

Everyone has a story when it comes to Star Wars, and I'm certainly no different. But unlike most folks', which begins with it being the first film they saw in the cinema and that kind of thing, mine at least starts a little differently. It began with snowspeeders.

I don't really know for sure if The Empire Strikes Back was the first film I ever saw, or if it was the original Star Wars, but one of my earliest memories is of a grainy stretched image of the aforementioned snowspeeders rocketing over the snow plains of Hoth. It was grainy and stretched because it was a pirated VHS - this was 1982 - with poor quality and stretched due to the aspect ratio not being adjusted as with pan and scan. This was not the ideal way to view the film, but nevertheless, from that moment onwards I was a rabid fan of that galaxy far, far away. And yes, the first film I saw in a cinema was a Star Wars movie (Return of the Jedi to be precise). Now one of the direct offshoots of the pirate experience was my love affair with Marvel's run of Star Wars comics, specifically their reprints in the UK.

Star Wars was a huge deal for Marvel, but at the time it almost wasn't a deal at all. With the original film seen as a low-budget B-movie that was a potential disaster, Lucasfilm's marketing team went out to try and make deals with all sorts of merchandise companies to create tie-ins to raise awareness of the forthcoming film. They were turned down by a lot of people (toy company Mego for one), as well as Stan Lee at Marvel, and it wasn't until editor Roy Thomas went to Lee and showed him what Star Wars potentially had both in terms of story, but also monetary value.

Funnily enough, it actually was seen by many as saving Marvel from going under. Marvel's run was a huge undertaking, with a revolving creative team of people like Carmine Infantino, Al Williamson, Mary Jo Duffy, Howard Chaykin, and Archie Goodwin, and introduced a vast number of colourful characters to the universe, as well as adapting the three movies of the original trilogy. The Marvel series in the UK was published weekly rather than the usual monthly comics cycle, and as such we got a quarter of a story per week, which wasn't brilliant but at least it felt like better value because it was 20p per day as well as being magazine-sized. Also notable were the titles: while the US comic run was simply known as "Star Wars", the title of the UK mag changed dependent on which film was out at the time, there for we had Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi weekly, with the latter being the one my mother used to buy for me from Tesco.

So this is both a voyage of nostalgia and discovery, as I go back through Marvel's run seeing what holds up, what doesn't, and whether any of it is as good as it used to be. If you have an mp3 of the Fox Fanfare, you should play that now.

Issue #1 - #6 - STAR WARS

#1: Star Wars; #2: Six Against The Galaxy; #3: Death Star; #4: In Battle With Darth Vader; #5: Lo, The Moons of Yavin; #6: The Final Chapter?

The first six issues of Star Wars were devoted to the adaptation of the original film, by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha. Like many comic adaptations, it was quite different in places to the film due to the huge lead-in periods for these kind of things. You actually wonder which cut was viewed - some scenes are in a different order, notably the "Help I think I'm melting!" line from C-3PO, which was originally to happen aboard the blockade runner but was switched to the TIE fighter attack near the end - here, it's back at the beginning.

It's also full of scenes cut from the film, notably new material concerning Luke Skywalker. While much of this has now been seen on the blu-ray (with the more hardcore geeks seeing it on the Behind The Magic CD-ROM) including the infamous Biggs scene, this was a major thing, especially after everyone who read the comic saw the film. We also get a glimpse at Jabba the Hutt, although instead of the Scottish actor in a furry costume, we instead get a different alien in his place, and a bipedal one at that.

The comic has a weird feel, not in an especially bad way, but it doesn't really feel a hundred percent like Star Wars. It captures the space opera part of it, and there's a certain throwback to the pulp stories and old westerns, especially with the dialogue. It's interesting reading the comic and seeing new lines filled in the space before and after existing lines (although there's nothing to say they weren't in the script), especially when they're illustrative - the scene where Princess Leia is captured, you have the stormtrooper saying "Set for stun!" as in the film, but Leia replies with "I've set mine to KILL!" - and it has a neat effect of adding a new dimension to the film, especially if, like me, you've seen it trillions of times.

One thing the comic doesn't fare so well in is capturing the innocent fairytale spirit of the film. It was something that seemingly felt so effortless, and I have a feeling it's very much to do with John Williams' musical score. Star Wars has been described many times, not least by George Lucas, as a silent film, and it's right on the nose. But with that, Williams' music fills in the narrative and emotional blanks not covered by the visuals, so when you have those memorable sequences, like when Princess Leia gives the tapes to Artoo (which has a strange narrated part intimating that C-3PO thinks Leia is “probably beautiful by human standards”, or even the most iconic part, Luke looking at the twin suns, the music supports the film so the comic either adds in dialogue or narration, or in the case of the latter, excises it completely.

The artwork is a strange beast. Credited to Chaykin and Leiahola, sometimes as illustrators, sometimes with Chaykin as illustrator and Leiahola as “embellisher”, it often seems like they were given sections, as the style changes like the wind. I prefer Chaykin's, as it has a bit of a rougher style, but Leiahola's is perhaps more traditional. It's all relatively faithful, give or take a few things. Chewie always looks more like an ape, especially as they use two-tone to distinguish his facial features, and there's a weird TIE fighter pilot who, with his/her elongated helmet and ear muffs, looks right out of a Polish film poster. The Millennium Falcon suffers a bit as well, with most of its surface detail wiped out, kind of missing the point about the style of the ship.

I do enjoy Thomas' dialogue and narration - it's very brash and fits in with the film's fast-talking dialogue style. The narration is fun and has to support the story a lot, so there's little bits like “like angry mosquitos, the rebel fighters streak upward from their hidden hangars” and “the rebel leader spoke earlier of its one weakness which may be exploited if the space gods are kind”. My favourite is the final panel, where as the gang get their medals (we're actually told Chewie will get one but Leia isn't tall enough to put it on) and it ends with “What the future holds for these six daring souls, only time and the space-winds know. But, for today... for now... they are content.” Poetry.

There are a few other inaccuracies – Luke's call-sign is 'Blue Five', which was actually the same as in the novel by Alan Dean Foster. I have a feeling that somewhere along the line they changed it to red due to the high use of bluescreen, so it's understandable. Also, all the lightsabers are pink, which is a bit of an odd choice. I'm guessing they saw footage before it was rotoscoped, so again, I can understand it. However, there are two inappropriate kiss klaxons throughout the story, although again, back then Leia wasn't any relation to Luke so it's not a massive deal. However, it does try and play it a bit more romantic, where both kisses in the film (at the chasm and on Yavin) were pecks on the cheek, this is as hot and heavy as it gets. Pretty sure they were smoking afterwards.

It's not a bad start, really. I've seen better and worse movie adaptations, but it captures the swashbuckling nature of the film fairly well, and it's a fun read. It's strange to see characters and events that you've spent your life revisiting reinterpreted, and if I have a big criticism, it's that the characters maybe weren't distilled down enough, especially with Luke. This doesn't really feel like his story, more that he's just one of the gang, which is perhaps a bit of a cardinal sin. But like the original film, it's a jumping off point with a galaxy full of potential for all kinds of stories. Who knows what we'll see?

Next: New Planets, New Perils!

- Charlie

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Saturday, 5 July 2014

TV REVIEW: The Honourable Woman - Episode One

Opening with a breathy voiceover from an accurately English-accented Maggie Gyllenhaal as businesswoman Nessa Stein, the first episode of The Honourable Woman begins twenty-nine years ago with a shocking and unexpectedly graphic moment and doesn't really let up from there. Fast forward to the present, we find Nessa receiving a life peerage, something which causes political turmoil due to her positioning as an Israeli engaged in philanthropic work in the Middle East.

The opening credit sequence feels like a perfect way to begin talking about this episode. It's full of enigmatic images at one stage before moving on to something considerably less subtle at others. It ends on a chess piece, long held as a symbol of political machinations from House of Cards to X-Men. So far, that's about as overt a symbol as you'll get for the rest of the narrative as the ramifications of Nessa's peerage manifest themselves in unexpected ways.

Like any good BBC political drama, cards are kept very close to the chest and Maggie Gyllenhaal with her inscrutable expression forms the cold centre of the unfolding mystery. She's imperious yet vulnerable, wracked with anxiety yet capable of delivering the kind of speech we all hope we'd be able to give in such a situation. It's a masterful performance that draws you in without offering too many answers just yet, dripfeeding us instead.

That goes for the narrative too which is set in motion by the apparent suicide of the communications CEO just awarded a multi-million pound contract with Nessa's company. That involves MI6 in the form of a bedraggled Stephen Rea, about to be retired and working on the suicide as his final case.

He's one of several players who are introduced here, most of whom are connected to Nessa or her family in some way. The ever-excellent Andrew Buchan plays her brother, Ephra, also shows the trauma of losing their father in such a sudden and brutal way as well as having his own secrets, possibly to do with Eve Best's MI6 agent. Though the episode doesn't focus too much on him or his family situation just yet, Buchan's nuanced performance promises much moving forward.

Throughout the episode, there's a sense of uneasiness as a result of the graphic deaths at the beginning that only grows as the episode progresses. Camera angles watch the characters from afar, as if dropping in on secretive aspects of their lives whilst other characters watch them from a distance. By the time we get to the climactic scenes at the Royal College of Music, that mysterious atmosphere is just as disquieting as the strobe lighting that begins to go off. The closing scenes leave us with even more questions, just as it should be in such a labyrnthine drama.

It's a promising start to a series that has been highly anticipated thanks to Gyllenhaal's presence and she doesn't disappoint. Whether it will reach the giddy heights set by State of Play remains to be seen, but it certainly has an atmosphere that has left me very intrigued.

- Becky

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Lover's Walk

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike left town with Dru after double-crossing Angel back in Season 2. Xander and Willow have been secretly kissing behind their respective other halves' backs and Buffy and Angel are finding it equally difficult to be friends. The gang have also taken their SATs.

And, ladies and gentlemen, the talent has returned. Not that the others aren't talented, but which other character could make an entrance quite so spectacular as crashing into the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, mirroring his initial arrival, but instead of getting out and being all badass, he falls out the car because he's drunk? Ah Spike. How I've missed you.

Spike's return to Sunnydale is a direct result of his alliance with Buffy in Becoming; after stealing Dru away, she bemoans the manner of their departure, calls Spike soft and makes out with a chaos demon. Spike decides the best way to cope with this is to return to Sunnydale (though this seems a little illogical come to think of it - do they not have magic shops in Brazil?) and work out a way to get Dru back. When he spies Willow in the magic shop, he promptly kills the sales assistant (Magic Shop Death #2 for those keeping track) and kidnaps both Willow and Xander. He soon runs into Buffy and Angel though, willing to offer them both insults and home truths.

Like Band Candy, Lover's Walk is one of the more memorable standalones of the third season, primarily thanks to the presence of James Marsters, back with bleached blond hair and leather trenchcoat in tow. It's the start of the softer side of Spike, more concerned with the woman he loves than he is about being a fearsome vampire (Holy Foreshadowing Batman #1). 

He's the unwitting voice of reason in the Buffy and Angel saga, pointing out that this whole friends thing is just a bit ridiculous. The interactions between the three of them as they begrudgingly team up is one of the best things about this episode, especially Spike's taunting of Angel behind Joyce's back. Yet Spike becomes the voice of honesty, declaring that Buffy and Angel will fight, shag and hate each other, but they'll never just be friends. And so it proves. Spike also serves to disrupt the status quo in more ways than one, causing chaos amidst the various romantic entanglements of the Scooby Gang.

Not only does he lecture Buffy and Angel about their ridiculous pact to remain friends, but he also manages to inadvertently destroy the two stable relationships of the group. As Willow attempts to cast an anti-love spell to solve her problems (Holy Foreshadowing Batman #2), Spike kidnaps them both. The threat of impending death offers the opportunity for a final, lustful clinch... only for Cordelia and Oz to discover them in the act. After the hilarity of the earlier scenes, it's an abrupt but necessary dramatic shift into a more sombre mood. 

It's the episode that really starts to introduce the themes of change and the inevitability of growing up that start to ramp up as we approach Graduation Day and what better way to show that than through the break up of relationships. There is nothing so transient when you're a teenager as that first flush of romance; relationships break up with ease over the smallest of things and there's nothing quite like getting over one. It feels monumental, as if the world will end (and in Buffy and Angel's case, it very nearly did).

These break-ups go on to define much of the Scoobies' interactions moving forward, particularly in Cordelia's case. It's a big sign that times are a'changing like Buffy's newfound possible college-based future, alongside the smaller signs regarding the Mayor. The scene in which he attempts to putt whilst sorting out the newly arrived Spike problem in Sunnydale reminds us once again that he's been pulling strings the entire time. What makes the Mayor such a great villain is just how banal he is; he's afraid of germs, likes golf and being organised. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.

It'll be a while before we see Spike back in Sunnydale again, but it's a lot of fun to check back in with everyone's Billy Idol-a-like (even though we all know Billy stole his look from the vampire). Next week, it's The Wish which is just about one of the best alternative world episodes ever.

Quote of the Week:

Spike: I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it.

Let's Get Trivial: Angel is sat reading a book by Sartre, La Nausee to be precise. All about one man's interaction with the world around him, the consequences of living alone and a lost lover, who has changed too much to love him still.

- Becky

You can check out Becky's look at previous episode Revelations here.

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Monday, 30 June 2014

FEATURE: Movie Talk on Sundays - Women in Film

What is #MTOS?

Every Sunday, at 8pm GMT on Twitter, like-minded film fans get together to discuss films. Each week a different person chooses ten questions to ask, one every ten minutes, on a topic of their choice. Follow me (twitter handle @bookshopgirl212) @MovieTOS, and the hashtag “#MTOS” to play along.

Hello fellow movie lovers; I think it is time to talk about Women In Film. It is a long overdue topic and I’m happy to use my second time hosting to celebrate and talk about women in front and behind the camera. Women have a vital role in filmmaking yet they never seem to get the spotlight they deserve.

On Sunday the 6th July we will change that. We will also talk about the money side of things; with Catching Fire, Frozen and Gravity, 2013 had 3 Top 10 highest grossing films featuring female leads – yet Hollywood still seems to be hesitant to put their money on female-centric blockbuster movies.

Get your thinking caps on and celebrate Women in Film!

Q1. Who’s your favourite female director and which film of hers is your favourite?

Q2. What is your favourite female-centric film?

Q3. Who is your favourite woman working in filmmaking? (editing, scoring, casting etc)

Q4. Which female producer do you think has been most influential in Hollywood filmmaking

Q5. Which filmmaker or writer continuously has great female characters in their work?

Q6. Which woman do you think was a catalyst for major change in front or behind the camera?

Q7. Who has the best male/female collaboration behind the camera?

Q8. 2013 was a great year 4 female-centric films.Why do u think does Hollywood still underestimate the box office draw of leading women?*

Q9. Female action heroes are sadly often sexualised. Give an example of great characters that weren’t.

Q10. To show boys and girls a strong female character they can aspire towards; which films would you use?

Last but not least, I want to thank Becky Lea (@beckygracelea) for giving me a spot on her fantastic website.

*P.S: Sorry about the abbreviations in Q8; I hate them too but 140 characters, eh!

- Kerstin

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Friday, 27 June 2014

FILM REVIEW: Cold in July

After shooting a man attempting to rob his house, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) finds himself at odds with the man's father, Ben (Sam Shepard), newly released from prison. Based on Joe R. Lonsdale's novel of the same name, Cold in July is a gloriously twisting affair, captured here by Joe Mickle in a haze of Texas sunshine and thunderstorms.

To try and define the film in narrower generic terms than a 'thriller' feels as if I'm doing the film a disservice. It both feels conventional and yet utterly unique at the same time. Thanks in large part to a narrative which defies prediction, the film is an amalgam of various different elements in references that come together to form a nicely satisfying whole.

There are a fair few references to be found within Cold in July the most obvious of which are the kind of sweaty 80s thrillers Patrick Swayze tended to star in. The clearest and most consistent homage is the John Carpenter-esque score that underpins the action. Switching from pulsating bass lines to soft, tinkling piano throughout, Jeff Grace's score never quite lets you settle. There's a sense of urgency even in the quieter moments that keeps everything just the wrong side of comfortable.

As the plot continues to defy expectations, that discomfort remains as the events get ever darker. Despite expanding in such unpredictable ways, the narrative develops in a wholly organic fashion. An accidental discovery here leads to another revelation further along the way. It also doesn't forget about the characters along the way; each moment impacts upon their developing arcs and affects their future decisions. It's simple stuff really, but it is incredibly refreshing to view a film that is entirely aware that an increasingly dark set of circumstances will see its characters react in very different ways.

The performances are particularly excellent with Hall's portrayal of Richard performing a fine balancing act between a guilty wreck in ill-fitting checked shirts and a man determined to correct a mistake. Sam Shepard, as the vengeful father Ben, cuts an imposing figure, but one that is imbued with increasing depths as the film goes on. However, it is Don Johnson in a supporting role who livens up the screen, a man of twisted morality who somehow becomes the compass for the other characters; he doesn't necessarily point them in the legal direction, rather the direction that will bring them some form of emotional closure.

As keen as the film is to explore various facets of masculinity, which it does admirably, it does mean that some of the other roles feel a little underwritten. Vinessa Shaw's Ann, Richard's wife, suffers in this respect and it is often unclear what effect she is supposed to be having on Richard's life. In some scenes, she performs an antagonistic function whilst in others, she lapses into a supportive wife. Shaw's performance is solid, but it feels like there are gaps missing with her character and she pretty much gets forgotten about as the film progresses.

That niggle aside, Cold in July is a fascinatingly twisting affair, never content to offer the audience a rhythm to settle into or a pattern to predict. If you haven't read the Joe R. Lansdale book on which it is based, I'd advise avoiding any prior knowledge and just let it unfold before you in all its uncomfortable glory.

- Becky

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